Limits of Acceptable Change

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The Daniel Boone National Forest sought public input to determine future management in the Red River Gorge. A process called "Limits of Acceptable Change", or LAC, invited the public to work with Forest Service managers to balance recreational use with resource protection needs. A series of workshops was begun, and the public was encouraged to attend.

The LAC process consists of 9 steps. We began with Step 1 in the summer of 2004. We finished at the end of 2008. Implementation of some LAC related projects began in 2009 and continues today.

Summary RRG & LAC Process

The purpose of this section is to provide a description of the Red River Gorge in the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) and a history of the uses and conflicts that led to the need for a “Limits of Acceptable Change” process. Please read the document below for more information about this process.

Red River Gorge LAC Results

The Limits of Acceptable Change process focuses on human-induced impacts to the environment. Recreation researchers developed this process to determine how much human-induced change is acceptable. The process relies on a strong relationship between the Forest Service and interested citizens. The objective of LAC is to address impacts of public use and to preserve the environmental setting and resources for future recreational use.

The LAC process will only work with citizen involvement throughout the entire procedure. The four orientation meetings held in May provided the public with more information on the LAC process and opportunities to be involved. A series of open workshops began for citizens to work through a nine-step process.

LAC Nine Steps Graphic

The challenge is not one of how to prevent any human-induced change to the Gorge, but rather one of deciding how much change will be allowed to occur, where, and the actions needed to control it. The process requires deciding what kinds of conditions are acceptable, then prescribing actions to protect or achieve those conditions. If an area does not meet those acceptable conditions, then management actions must be taken to correct the situation. For example, if an area receives very heavy overnight camping that causes unacceptable damage to the resource, then the area may be closed and rehabilitated. The LAC process consists of nine steps:


  • Purpose of this step is to identify those public issues and managerial concerns that relate to distinctive features and characteristics of the Gorge.
  • Product is a narrative write up identifying unique values and special opportunities to be featured in management of the Gorge and problems requiring special attention.
  • Results (pdf, 59 kb, 1 pp.)


  • Purpose of this step is to define a series of opportunity zones for the Gorge. An opportunity zone provides a qualitative description of the kinds of resource and social conditions acceptable for that class and the type of management activity considered appropriate. Opportunity zones are not on-the-ground allocations, nor are they derived from specific conditions found within the area. They are hypothetical descriptions of the range of conditions that managers consider likely to be maintained or restored in the area. The designation of opportunity zones often follows the basic Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) system.
  • Product is a narrative description of resource, social, and managerial conditions defined as appropriate and acceptable for each opportunity zone.
  • Results (pdf, 62 kb, 2 pp.)


  • Purpose of this step is to identify indicators-specific variables-that, singly or in combination, are taken as indicative of the condition of the overall opportunity class. These indicators must be measurable, such as numbers of damaged trees per campsite or number of trail encounters per day. These indicators will suggest where and when management action may be needed.
  • Product is a list of measurable resource and social indicators (preferably quantifiable).
  • Results (pdf, 16 kb, 1 p.)


  • Purpose of this step is to inventory conditions in the Gorge. Baseline data is needed before meaningful standards can be developed. An inventory of resource conditions is usually conducted in the field by assessing conditions of resources. These may include campsites, system trails, user-created trails, cultural sites, and rare plant sites. An inventory of social conditions is often obtained via a visitor use survey. Data collected may include visitors perception of crowding, visitor use numbers, and visitor preferences for a variety of management techniques.
  • Product is a map and/or list of existing conditions of each indicator throughout the Gorge.
  • Results (pdf, 48 kb, 1 p.)


  • Purpose of this step is to assign quantitative or highly specific measures to the indicators. This greater specifity is obtained by establishing standards-measurable aspects of the indicators defined in step 3. Standards are often best expressed in terms of probabilities. For example, a standard for daily contacts while traveling in a certain opportunity class might be expressed as: “Contact between different groups on a trail will not exceed four per day on at least 90 percent of the days”.
  • Product is a table of specific (quantified where possible) measures of acceptable conditions for each indicator in each opportunity zone.
  • Results Social Standards (pdf, 16 kb, 1 p.)
  • Results Resource Standards  (pdf, 25 kb, 2 pp.) 


  • Purpose of this step is to decide what resource and social conditions are to be maintained or achieved in specific areas of the Gorge. This is a prescriptive step (it is concerned with establishing what should be), and input from both the Forest Service and the public should be used to make these decisions. Step 6 involves an analysis of inventory data collected in step 4, along with area issues and concerns identified in step 1. Some issues might prove mutually contradictory (“increase opportunities for easier access into most portions of the wilderness” and “provide greater opportunities for solitude”).
  • Products are maps and tabular summaries of alternative opportunity zone allocations.
  • Results (pdf, 16 kb, 1 p.)
  • Results Map (pdf, 286 kb, 1 p.)


  • Purpose of this step is to identify the differences, if any, that exist between current conditions (inventoried in step 4) and the standards (identified in step 5). This will identify places where problems exist and what management actions are needed.
  • Product is a list or maps of all places where existing conditions are worse that standard and identification of what management actions would best bring conditions up to standard.
  • Results (pdf, 114 kb, 6 pp.)


  • Purpose of this step is to select a preferred alternative.
  • Product is the final allocation of opportunity zones and selection of a management program.
  • Results (pdf, 42 kb, 1 p.)


  • Purpose of this step is to implement a management program to achieve the objectives of the selected alternative and to provide periodic, systematic feedback regarding the performance of the management program.
  • Product is recommendations of needed changes in management program in order to obtain progress toward bringing existing conditions up to standard.
  • Results (pdf, 75 kb, 2 pp.)

About the Gorge

The Red River Gorge area contains approximately 40,000 acres of national forest land in Menifee, Powell, and Wolfe (pdf, 564 kb) counties. The Gorge contains some of the most beautiful and biologically diverse lands in Kentucky. In addition, the archaeological record of the Gorge dates back over 12,000 years.

Several significant national designations have been given to the resources within the Gorge, including a National Wild and Scenic River, a Wilderness, and a National Scenic Byway. The Gorge itself has been designated a Geological Area, a National Natural Landmark, and a National Register Historic District.

Map of Gorge  (pdf, 1.62 mb, 27x33 inches)

Gorge Designations (pdf, 24 kb, 1 p.)

Laws affecting the Gorge (pdf, 23 kb, 2 pp.)

What is Wilderness? (pdf, 14 kb, 1 p.)

Who's In Charge? (pdf, 17 kb, 1 p.)

About the Red River Gorge pdfs

About the Gorge...

What is the Red River Gorge? (pdf, 3.39 mb, 44 pp). Describes the Red River Gorge's significate features.

Overview of Visitor Impacts (pdf, 1.42 mb, 21 pp). Describes the impacts visitor use has had on the Red River Gorge.

What Is Limits of Acceptable Change? (pdf, 774 kb, 33 pp). Describes the LAC process.

About Heritage Resources in the Gorge...

Heritage Resource Managment in the Red River Gorge (pdf, 1.59 mb, 30 pp). Describes archaeologists's work in the Gorge and recreation impacts on archaeological sites.

Historic Times in the Gorge (pdf, 1.2 mb, 14 pp). Describes salt petre mining, logging, farming, and moonshining in the Gorge.

Approximately 41,000 acres of National Forest land:

29,000 acres are within Geological Area (13,000 acres of it are Clifty Wilderness)

12,000 acres outside Geological Area (west of Tunnel Ridge Road & Indian Creek)National Forest land within these boundaries:

US 460 to the north

KY 746 to the east

Natural Bridge State Resort Park and private land to the south (some south of Parkway)

Hatton Ridge Road & private land to the west

Congressional Designations:

Clifty Wilderness - 13,000 acres

National Wild and Scenic River -19.4 miles of Red River

Other Designations:

Red River Gorge National Scenic Byway - 46 miles

National Natural Landmark and National Geological Area - 29,000 acres

National Archaeological Historic District - approx. 37,000 acres


Approximately 60 miles of designated system trails

Estimated user-created trails: approximately 100 miles

Estimated backcountry campsites: approximately 1,000

Rock Climbing

72 crags containing about 700 individual routes (approximately 50% sport)

Open Roads:

Approximately 22 miles of National Forest gravel roads within the Gorge (7)

Approximately 2.4 miles of National Forest paved roads within the Gorge (Koomer & Sky Bridge)

Approximately 18.4 miles of State paved roads within the Gorge (KY 77 & 715)

Approximately 20 miles of Mountain Parkway & KY 15 between Slade & Pine Ridge exits

Developed Facilities include:

  • Koomer Ridge Campground
  • Gladie Visitor
  • Frenchburg Job Corps Center
  • 4 picnic areas
  • 2 boat launches
  • Several trailheads

Adjacent Influences include:

  • Natural Bridge State Resort Park
  • Private land inholdings (surrounded by National Forest)
  • Nearby private land

General Documents

LAC Process Declared an Undertaking

LAC Process Declared an Undertaking (pdf, 14 kb, 1 p.)

Final Memorandum of Agreement (pdf, 958 kb, 36 pp.)

General Documents About the Gorge

About the Gorge (pdf, 14 kb, 1 p.)

Map of Gorge   (pdf, 1.62 mb, 28x33, 1p.)

Gorge Designations  (pdf, 20 kb, 1 p.)

Laws affecting the Gorge  (pdf, 23 kb, 2 pp.)

What is Wilderness? (pdf, 14 kb, 1 p.)

Who's In Charge? (pdf, 17 kb, 1 p.)

Scientific Studies to Support the LAC Process

Environmental Auditing: Capabilities and Management Utility of Recreation Impact Monitoring Programs (pdf, 344 kb, 9 pp.). Addresses monitoring campsite impacts.

Trail Resource Impacts and an Examination of Alternative Techniques (pdf, 1.2 mb, 11 pp.). Trail Resource Impacts.

The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum: A Framework for Planning, Management and Research.  (36 pages, 872 kb pdf file). What Is Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS)? 

Red River Gorge: A Study of Relationships and Use Patterns Among Recreationists and Local Residents (pdf, 1.89 mb, 49 pp.).  Baylor University 2004 Visitor Survey for Red River Gorge.

General Documents about the LAC Process

 Limits of Acceptable Change: A New Framework for Managing the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex (pdf, 28 kb, 9 pp.). Describes the First LAC Process - Bob Marshall Wilderness, MT - 1984.

LAC System For Wilderness Planning (pdf, 1.32 mb, 43 pp.).This paper describes the Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) system, a framework for establishing acceptable and appropriate resource and social conditions in recreation settings. From Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, January 1985.

Summary of Cohutta Wilderness LAC in Georgia (pdf, 35 kb, 4 pp.)

LAC Process Handout (pdf, 16 kb, 1 p.)

LAC Process Explanation (pdf, 270 kb, 4 pp.). Explanation of the process for Red River Gorge

What does the Revised Forest Plan have to say about LAC? (pdf, 19 kb, 2 pp.).

Things OUTSIDE the scope of LAC (pdf, 16 kb, 1 p.)

Wilderness Zoning: Should We Purposely Manage to Different Standards? (pdf, 156 kb, 7 pp.).


Areas that have gone through the LAC Process:

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness, Lolo National Forest  (read LAC report, pdf)

Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

Wilderness is an Internet-based tool connecting the natural resource workforce, scientists, educators, and the public to their wilderness heritage through ready access to wilderness information. Use their Public Law Library and search for Clifty Wilderness, which contains the Kentucky Wilderness Act of 1985


Contains information about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems, including the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It lists these rivers by state and has information about the Red River.

National Natural Landmarks Program

The National Natural Landmarks Program recognizes and encourages the conservation of outstanding examples of our country's natural history. This program identifies and recognizes the best examples of biological and geological features in both public and private ownership.

National Scenic Byways

The National Scenic Byways Program is a grass-roots collaborative effort established to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States. It is a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration

National Register of Historic Places

The National Register of Historic Places is the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. The Gorge was listed on September 12, 2003.

Red River Gorge Trail Crew

The Red River Gorge Trail Crew is composed of individual volunteers that get together once each month to add value to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky.

Leave No Trace

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a national non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and inspiring responsible outdoor recreation through education, research and partnerships. Information about general Leave No Trace Principals and also specific tips for rock climbing.


Large Red River Gorge Map (pdf, 1.62 mb, 28x33)

Map of Daniel Boone National Forest (pdf, 3 mb, 1 p.)

LAC Zones Map (pdf, 286 kb, 1 p.)